Rugged lakes, panoramic peaks and sparkling bays: five underrated Victorian walks

The team behind Victorian regional travel project One Hour Out share some of their favourite on-foot finds around the state.

Winton wetlands

Located between Benalla and Wangaratta on Yorta Yorta country, the Winton wetlands is a place that shares stories from the past, the present and even the future.

One of the largest restoration projects in the southern hemisphere, the wetlands’ collaborators are on a mission to renew the ecology of the reserve and grow its natural, scientific, cultural and environmental significance. There is a huge emphasis on education here.

The sheer expanse of the area means it is easy to spend a day here and your first stop should be the welcome trail with its information on the wetlands, the local flora and fauna and historical anecdotes.

The Lotjpatj Natjan Danak sculpture trail is not to be missed. Works created by 15 Yorta Yorta artists are featured on the track, representing their living culture. It is really rather profound to interact with their stories through art.

The abundant wildlife here makes it really special too, and you will spot free-roaming kangaroos, lizards and various birds.

You can choose to venture here for the day but we recommend packing your camping gear and bicycles and setting up base for a couple of nights or more. Stargaze in the clear, unobstructed north-eastern skies, wake to the sound of birdsong, admire the natural Australian bushland, take a sunrise stroll along one of a series of walking tracks, or simply sit back and soak up the tranquillity.

– Dellaram Vreeland

Diamond Bay

Diamond Bay is one of those places locals would prefer remained a secret – so we give our heartfelt apologies to the residents of Sorrento.

This protected bay lies three blocks back from the main road that runs from Sorrento to Blairgowrie and the view from the timber deck is stunning, especially at sunset.

From there a staircase takes you down on to the caramel sand, which in turn stretches out to meet the sparkling turquoise water. The sandstone cliffs surrounding the bay are reminiscent of the small bays along the Great Ocean Road with layered sand compositions running from pale blonde to ochre.

Due to the bay being protected by two rocky outcrops, this is one of the calmer spots on the ocean side of the Mornington Peninsula and a relatively safe place for a swim.

Diamond Bay is part of the coastal walk that traverses the 30km of tea tree–covered clifftops and beaches facing Bass Strait from Cape Schanck Lighthouse to Point Nepean national park. If time isn’t on your side, then heading east along the coast from Diamond Bay will take you to St Paul’s lookout and the view across a collection of small rocky outcrops known as the Bay of Islands. Taking the west trail along the clifftops will connect you to Coppins Track with excellent views to Sorrento as the sun sets.

Be sure to stick to the beach and designated pathways, as the area is undergoing an extensive revegetation program and contains a number of fragile middens.

If you decide to do the coastal walk towards Cape Schanck, the truly adventurous can then join the Two Bays walking track in order to cross the peninsula over to Dromana. This 26km trail will take you through lush green fern gullies, the eucalypt forests of Greens Bush and climbs to an elevation of almost 300m above sea level as you cross Arthurs Seat.

The temptation then is to join the 28km bay trail all the way back to Sorrento to complete the ultimate 100km walking tour of the Mornington Peninsula.

– Jay Dillon

Yeddonba Aboriginal cultural site

Thylacines roamed Australia for 30 million years. About 4,000 years ago their numbers on the mainland started to decline as dingo numbers grew. By 2,000 years ago thylacine had become extinct on the mainland; and when the Europeans arrived they called them Tasmanian tigers. The last Tasmanian tiger died alone in a Hobart zoo in the 1930s. But an ochre image of a thylacine can be seen on the wall of a rock overhang at the base of Mount Pilot. It was painted by ancestors of the local Dhudhuroa people when these striped marsupials were hunting for small prey in the box forest in the granite hills around what today is Beechworth. You can see this remarkable, although faint with age, image along with what looks like a goanna scaling a tree at Yeddonba Aboriginal cultural site.

Although the images are line drawings, the artist has captured some of the movement and character of the thylacine and goanna.

You can find the site on Yeddonba Road, off Toveys Road, off Beechworth-Chiltern Road, in north-east Victoria. There is a short self-guided walk through the box forest to the site where there is a boardwalk that brings you face to face with the ancient art. It is a site sacred to not only the Dhudhuroa people but also to other local clans who would meet for ceremonies at what is now known as Mount Pilot.

– Richard Cornish

Australian Botanic Gardens

If you’re a nature lover, environmentally aware, recycler, re-user, or a lover of anything to do with sustainability you’ll be intrigued by a botanic garden built entirely on top of a landfill site.

You read that correctly. A botanic garden, set across a 25ha landfill site and not a rose garden in sight.

Through community engagement the masterplan for the site included themed gardens that both rehabilitate the land and draw on the cultural, historical and environmental characteristics of the Goulburn Valley. The infrastructure works included remodelling of the floodway into life-giving wetlands that are flooded each year by the nearby Goulburn and Broken rivers.

Honeysuckle Rise takes in a panoramic view of the Shepparton area and we recommend avoiding the heat of the day to visit, and taking in the view across the city at sunrise or sunset. There is a range of cycling and walking paths to explore, from the river paths to the Honeysuckle Track. All are accessible and vary in length.

A new section in development is dedicated to the land management practices of the Yorta Yorta people before European settlement and will be planted out to represent the four bioregions of the Goulburn Valley.

The landscape is still a work in progress but how often do you get to see the beginning of something so significant?

– Jay Dillon

Budj Bim cultural landscape

Recognised by Unesco in 2019, more than 6,000 years old and just a 40-minute drive from Port Fairy and near Heywood, Budj Bim cultural landscape is what remains of a vast series of stone villages built on the edge of an intricate system of water channels and weirs by the Gunditjmara people from about 4,000BC until colonisation. The water system was built around a large expanse of water, named Lake Condah by settlers, to trap kooyang or the southern short-finned eel. The lake was drained in the middle of the 20th century.

In 2022, after decades of planning and working with the local community, the Gunditjmara people opened their sacred landscape up to visitors

This vast and powerfully rugged place has been carefully and quietly nurtured by the Gunditjmara locals and the drained lake has been returned to close to its original levels.

In 2022, after decades of planning and working with the local community, the Gunditjmara people opened their sacred landscape up to visitors. A $2m visitor centre complex has a cafe and interpretative area facilities that will allow local Gunditjmara people to once again harvest, process and smoke eels, but now in a state-of-the-art facility. Open Wednesday to Sunday, it looks out over the lake and offers visitors a chance to taste real smoked short-finned eel in a manner of delicious ways.

The two-hour tours are a true eye-opener – you are taken from the visitor information centre to the start of the lava flows that created Lake Condah and told some of the stories around the area. We learned that Budj Bim erupted about 27,000 years ago, spewing red-hot lava for scores of kilometres and forming Lake Condah.

A stone axe found buried beneath the lava flow by archaeologists indicates that humans have been in this area since before the eruption. That the Gunditjmara people are still telling the story of the eruption 37,000 years later is a likely candidate for the oldest story still being told on the planet.

The half-day tour includes these stories and also allows time to delve deeper into this maze-like structure of ancient reservoirs, channels and village sites. It took us to an ancient smoking tree, a hollowed-out manna gum under which scientists have detected amounts of eel fat, rendered from eels as they were smoked to preserve them for trade. The tour also takes in old weirs and a dam where kooyang were trapped and held.

The full-day tour immerses you in the Gunditjmara cultural perspective. You visit a volcano hollowed out by a blast and now infilled by a deep crater lake. When the guides take you to visit their weirs, stone huts and celestial calendar site and you share a delicious morning tea and lunch – including eel – you begin to see the world through the eyes of the Gunditjmara people. The eel story is just the beginning.

– Richard Cornish

  • This is an edited extract from Undiscovered Victoria from the team at One Hour Out published by Hardie Grant Explore RRP $45